Crazy for Cranberries

I'm crazy for cranberries as I'm sure many of you are. The following recipes, chosen from a repertoire of dozens, are interesting variations on a standard theme but have more verve and vibrancy. One such newfangled version always appears on my Thanksgiving table and I often make enough to give away as gifts in pretty glass jars. But you may be interested to know that a wobbly block of cranberry sauce, straight from the can, takes center stage. I just love the stuff:  I love it's garnet color, its opaque yet translucent sheen, its tart-sweet syzygy, the way it waxes and wanes, and the way it is generally left untouched, slowly becoming unglued as the temperature rises around the table. Poor jellied cranberry sauce. What to do? I turn it into a delicious cranberry granita (!) -- a recipe I'll share with you on "Thanksgiving Leftovers Day" -- a new culinary holiday that takes place on the fourth Saturday of every November. Never heard of it? I just made it up! Anyway, the jellied cylinder, complete with the slightly indented striations from the can itself, is something I look forward to year after year. It's a tradition I would never change.

The first offering below is this year's favorite spin. It is a fresh, sprightly relish that cleanses your palate and adds electricity and color to each of the meal's components. And you can make it today, for it improves with each day that passes -- up to five days in advance -- and it takes only two minutes to prepare. Can you find the time? The second recipe is dark and jammy and reminiscent of a conserve (a thick jam made from two or more fruits.) Its deep color comes from dark-brown sugar and ruby-hued dried cherries which plump right up and add unexpected bursts of sweetness. Candied ginger and fresh lime zest tell the rest of the story.

For more saucy cranberry ideas, you may refer to my posts of 2010 (November 20 and December 1) which features a dynamic chutney and dulcet cranberry-maple syrup, and a simple and sophisticated apple-cranberry sauce. Not bad at all with a holiday bird (or with potato pancakes!)

Today the cranberries, tomorrow the...

Cranberry-Lemon-Apple Relish

12 ounces fresh cranberries 2/3 cup turbinado sugar 2 lemon wedges (skin and all, no pits) ½ large Gala apple, in large chunks 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice Large pinch salt

Pulse in food processor until finely ground. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Makes 2-1/3 cups

Cranberry, Dried Cherry and Ginger Conserve

1-2/3 cups dark brown sugar 24 ounces fresh cranberries ¾ cup dried cherries, about 3 ounces, coarsely chopped 3 tablespoons finely minced candied ginger 1 large lime

In a large saucepan, bring 2-1/2 cups water and sugar to a boil. Add cranberries, dried cherries, 3 tablespoons minced ginger and a pinch of salt. Bring mixture to a rapid boil. Reduce heat to medium-high. Grate zest of lime and add to pot. Cook for 15 minutes,  stirring frequently, until cranberries pop and mixture is thick. Let cool with cover askew.  Transfer to a bowl or jar; cover and refrigerate until cold. If desired, garnish with additional candied ginger or grated lime zest. Serves 8  (makes 5 cups)

Cranberry Blog (oops...I mean Bog)

Good morning.  I did re-test my Spiced Cranberry Chutney and here it is.  You can make it with frozen cranberries (that don't need to be thawed) or berries fresh from the package.  Did you know that you can freeze cranberries up to 9 months?  (Just learned that myself.)  And you can refrigerate this chutney up to 3 weeks, probably longer.  Many cookbook authors, food stylists, and magazine writers keep lots of cranberries in their freezer because you just never know when you need them.  I won't disclose the magazine, but I just submitted a proposal for Thanksgiving dinner 2011! and will need lots of cranberries for testing sometime next summer (yes, 9 months from now.)

Spiced Cranberry Chutney 1 medium garlic clove 1 medium yellow onion, about 3-1/2 ounces 12 ounces cranberries 2/3 cup golden raisins 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 1/3 cup cider or rice vinegar 1 tablespoon mustard seed 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves pinch red pepper flakes 3/4 to 1 cup finely diced ripe mango

Put garlic and peeled onion in food processor and pulse until coarsely ground.  Transfer to a large saucepan.  Add cranberries, raisins, 3/4 cup sugar, vinegar, mustard seed, ginger, allspice, cardamom, cloves, pepper flakes and a large pinch of salt.  Add 1 cup water and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and place cover askew.  Cook 35 minutes, stirring frequently, until chutney is very thick.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and mango.   Stir well, cover and let sit until room temperature. Stir, cover and refrigerate until very cold.  Makes about 3-1/2 cups

And here's one more signature use of cranberries.  It will fill a winter morning with mouthwatering perfume as it gets drizzled over thick slices of hot french toast. It is also delicious poured on freshly fallen snow.  Really.

Warm Cranberry-Maple Syrup (adapted from Christmas 1-2-3) 1 cup fresh cranberries 1 cup pure maple syrup 1 cinnamon stick or split vanilla bean

Place all the ingredients in a small heavy saucepan.  Add 1/2 cup water and stir.  Bring to a boil, then immediately lower heat and simmer 15 minutes. Strain through a coarse-mesh sieve, pressing down on the cranberries to extract juice.  Serve warm.  Makes 1 cup

A Tale of Two Cranberries

Years ago when I was a young chef, I used to enter recipe contests designated for professional chefs only.  Much to my surprise I won each one of the three I entered.  One was for white rice, one for Bisquick, and the other for fresh cranberries.  It's not that I was the best chef in the country, or even had the best dish, but my recipe titles were always intriguing and the flavors were always bold.  There was Jade Rice with Shrimp and Scallops; Mile-High Tamale Pie, and Spiced Cranberry Chutney, respectively.   Adding fresh mango, cardamom, mustard seed and pepper flakes to traditional-style cranberry sauce was a bit of culinary derring-do way back then. Years later, when creating a repertoire of dishes for my 1-2-3 books, I experimented with cranberries, again, but this time in a most radically simple way.  Three simple elements: fresh cranberries, sun-dried cherries and dark brown sugar, coalesced into two entirely different dishes:  One version was raw and the other, cooked. I loved the contrast, the ease, and the fun in experiencing the disparate qualities from the same ingredients -- the first, a tart relish, the other a sultry compote.

It certainly is the time of year to be thinking about such things.  Cranberries are harvested in the fall after the berry (originally white) takes on its distinctive garnet color.  And there is no Thanksgiving table in America (or in Canada on their Thanksgiving day) that will be devoid of the super-fruit in some form. Somehow the Native Americans knew of their beneficial medicinal properties long before the word anthocyanin was known.  

Today, I am going to re-test that decades-old prize-winning cranberry chutney and give you the results tomorrow.  Today, "the tale of two cranberries." (Adapted from Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook.)

Ruby Cranberries with Sun-Dried Cherries:  Relish and Compote Relish

12 ounces (about 3 cups) cranberries 4 ounces (about 3/4 cup) sun-dried cherries 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

Put cranberries and dried cherries in a small bowl.  Mix gently.  Add half the mixture to a food processor.  Process until coarsely, but evenly, chopped. Transfer to bowl.  Repeat with remaining mixture.  Add brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a grinding of black pepper.  Mix very well so that the sugar dissolves and gets incorporated.  Cover and refrigerate 24 hours before serving.  Makes 2-1/2 cups

Compote 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar 12 ounces (about 3 cups) cranberries 4 ounces (about 3/4 cup) sun-dried cherries

In heavy medium saucepan, put 1 cup water, brown sugar, pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring to a boil; add cranberries and dried cherries. Return to a boil, reduce heat and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until cranberries have popped and sauce has thickened.  Cool at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until cold.  Makes 2-1/4 cups

It's raining cranberries. Please send me your favorite recipe -- after all, it's almost Thanksgiving, a time to share.